Future Islands - Echoplex - 11/17/11
Better than: Nursing your woes while crying in your beer. Having someone spill theirs on you while dancing in place takes way less effort
I'd been told that Baltimore synth-pop berserkers Future Islands are "great live." I sometimes wonder if they enjoy hearing that any more than any of us enjoy being told we've got "character" or a "good personality."
Because the implication is that the live spectacle is compensatory for albums that have some sort of major flaw. It's tough to say: their first record wasn't that good in most aspects, and 2010's In Evening Air is fiercely beloved in some corners, but always struck me as "missing something" or "on the verge." If only they could balance out their spasms with hooks, their freak-outs with time-outs.
But while this year's On The Water appears to be their long-due breakthrough that fully explores all of their affective and visceral strengths, it's not like it does a better job of capturing their frenetic energy. As a matter of fact, it's their softest by a large margin. But perhaps the duality it explores between wanting to hang your head and howl at the moon is what ultimately makes it their most diverse and rewarding listen.
And yes, people are noticing. About a year after an eardrum-splitting performance at a memorably crowded and sweaty Smell, the trio put on a scene-stealing set at FYF Fest and ticket demand eventually drove last night's show from the Echo to the more spacious Echoplex.
But yeah, if you must know - Future Islands are fucking great live. It's not so much that a professional studio robs any of their songs of their emotional gravity or buries them in production gloss. It's just that being able to put a face - a maniacally grinning, operatically mugging one, at that - to these outpourings makes these loud but lonely songs feel like communal exorcisms.
Chalk it up to the inimitable stage presence of Samuel Herring, whose voice embodies a long lineage of "pretty on the inside" types - Man Man's Honus Honus, Tom Waits, even Meat Loaf - ratcheted up to a theatricality that feels Shakespearean above all else.
Those vox are a strange dichotomy indeed, howling and preening, alternately primally amateur and startlingly professional. Likewise, he looks like no other frontman in the indie world. Depending on the angle you catch him at, there's a resemblance to either Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals, Joaquin Phoenix or just any dude at your office who's clearly got the upper hand and higher salary whenever you "need to talk."